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Ithilden’s Begetting Day
Ithilden stood straight and still, looking his father directly in the eye as he awaited a decision. His father’s face was expressionless, but Ithilden could see the twinkle in his eye, and he knew if he looked at his mother he would find her smiling. That meant the answer was ‘yes’ and he just had to wait for his father to proclaim it.
“You may spend the day with Eredien,” said Thranduil finally, and he relaxed back into his chair.
“Thank you, Adar,” replied Ithilden politely. He paused, uncertain, then ventured, “And the night too, Adar?”
Thranduil smiled. “The night too. Though,” he added, his voice stern, “I expect you to stay on the flet and not wander during the night.”
“Yes, Adar!” answered Ithilden, pleased.
“Come here,” said Lorellin, beckoning to him. When he walked to her, she straightened his new tunic and smoothed his hair, and he smiled with delight because she had to rise slightly to reach the top of his head. “Do you need me to help you pack what you will need?”
“No, Naneth,” he replied quickly. As much as he appreciated his mother’s aid with his father when he wished for more freedom, she sometimes forgot he was not an elfling any longer.
“Happy begetting day, Ithilden. Enjoy yourself, and we will see you tomorrow,” she said, then drew his head down and kissed him.
“Thank you, Naneth! Farewell, Adar!” he cried, then quickly fled the room before either of them could change their minds.
He ran to his room and grabbed his already packed bag, and then dashed out of the palace and over the bridge to where Eredien waited for him. It was a beautiful fall day, the leaves in glorious oranges, yellows, reds, purples and browns, and Ithilden breathed deeply of the cool, crisp air.
“Can you stay out all night?” called Eredien as he bounced to his feet.
“Yes!” called Ithilden back. He slowed and fell into step with Eredien. “I was surprised, as Adar always says no, but I think my naneth convinced him.”
Eredien grinned. His father was a forester and had been taking Eredien out with him on his work since Eredien could walk. Their family had a flet above their cottage that they slept on in hot weather, but this was not where he and Ithilden would sleep. He and Ithilden had built their own flet that summer, in a tree next to the river. “Yesterday I heard my adar tell my naneth that your adar inspected the flet. He must have decided it is safe,” said Eredien.
“This is my thirtieth begetting day, and yours is near. It is time our parents started letting us see to our own safety. Really, it is the beginning of us seeing to the safety of the realm,” said Ithilden seriously.
Eredien laughed. “I am happy enough letting my adar and naneth see to my safety. Besides, we see guards from the flet all the time. Nothing is going to happen to us there.”
Ithilden pursed his lips and remained silent. Eredien was his best friend, but he had no idea how hard the king worked to keep the lands safe. He knew that as the king’s son, he would need to know and understand all about the Woodland Realm and help to fight its enemies. But he had learned there was no point in explaining this to Eredien again. He would just laugh and say Ithilden was too serious.
“Let us put our packs up on the flet, then we can go swimming,” suggested Eredien. “My adar said there are otters in the creek north of here.”
They swam all afternoon in the creek, which flowed into the river a mile northwest of their flet. The otters playfully swam around them, one swimming so near to Ithilden that he felt its sleek coat brush against his arm. The air was cool when they finally emerged from the water for the last time and donned their clothes. Ithilden grinned down at the string of fish they had caught for their dinner.
“You are amazingly fast at catching fish,” said Ithilden with admiration. “I think you caught three for every one that I did.”
“I do it far more often,” answered Eredien easily as he picked up the fish. “I remember when I was very small and my adar took me into the creek. The water was up to my chest and the fish were swimming around my feet. I watched him catch the fish, his hands lightning fast as he snatched them from around my toes. He said I made so much noise that I had to go sit with my naneth or we would starve.”
“I bet you are as fast as him now,” said Ithilden.
“Almost,” laughed Eredien.
They walked back to their flet as darkness settled around them. Ithilden built a fire while Eredien efficiently cleaned the fish. Ithilden watched his friend’s knife fly with precision and realized how proficient Eredien had become at living in the woods. He could catch and cook his own food, and he knew how to build a flet, because he had helped to build their family’s flet. When the fire was ready, Eredien roasted their fish. Ithilden thought it was the best tasting fish he had ever eaten.
“That is because you caught it yourself,” replied Eredien. “My adar says that anything you do yourself seems like the best.”
Ithilden settled back against the tree, tilting his head back to watch the stars open in the sky above him. In many places in the forest, they could not see the sky through the tree canopy. He loved being near the river because the canopy parted enough to give a clear view of the skies, and the skies made him think of how much bigger life was than just him.
He thought of all the things Eredien was good at doing. He supposed, in time, he would learn to build flets and catch and cook food efficiently, because all elves could do those things and he would need to when he became a warrior. That was still a long way off, as his mother often reminded him. She would always say to take time for joy now, while you are in the years of your youth. He wanted to help his father, though. He wanted to be the best warrior his father had.
He was just thinking they should go to bed when he heard someone singing. The female voice was singing of the moon and stars and of a special ellon’s love. He could see a shadowy figure on the path beyond the tree and realized the maiden walked alone. He listened for a moment longer, then the noises of the forest suddenly seemed louder all around him. He could hear birds of prey calling and crickets chirping, frogs croaking and then the squeal of a mouse caught as someone’s dinner. That maiden should not walk unescorted, he thought.
“Come,” he whispered to Eredien. “We should escort her, so she does not come to harm in the darkness.”
Eredien frowned. “There is no danger near here, Ithilden.”
“We do not know how far she is going to walk,” reasoned Ithilden. “Most of the cottages and flets are east of us, not west.”
“She may not wish for us to escort her,” argued Eredien. “Besides, I told my father I would stay at the flet once darkness came.”
“I will go alone,” answered Ithilden, exasperated. Could not Eredien even wish to offer this small service to the realm?
He rose and grabbed his bow, and then moved swiftly but silently along the path. He could again hear the maiden’s song, but was surprised when she wandered off the path and into the overgrowth. He could see she had a basket with her, and he realized she was harvesting something. He knew there were moonflowers that had to be picked in moonlight and some roots that were better dug in darkness. He frowned in disapproval. The maiden looked older than him and surely knew better than to be out alone.
He heard a movement at his side and saw Eredien out of the corner of his eye. He grinned. Eredien might not wish to do the right thing, but he would not let Ithilden go off alone. He also had his bow. Ithilden pointed up into the trees, and the two of them leapt into the branches.
They followed the maiden deeper into the forest, noticing that she was moving faster and faster. Soon she began to run, and Ithilden saw her look over her shoulder once or twice, but she wasn’t looking up to where they were. Suddenly, he realized she was running away from them!
“Mistress!” he called. “Wait!”
The maiden ran faster, thrashing through the undergrowth, while he called to her several more times. Finally, the maiden turned around, her chest heaving and her eyes filled with fear. Ithilden and Eredien jumped down from the trees, landing in front of her. She screamed and swung her basket at him, hitting him hard on the side of his face and scraping his nose and forehead. Ithilden grabbed the basket to keep her from whacking him again.
“Why are you following me? Why did you not identify yourselves?” she cried angrily.
“We were just following you to make sure you made it safely home!” answered Ithilden, holding the basket safely between himself and the irate female.
The maiden took in a deep breath and held it, then let it out slowly. She looked around at the heavy forest growth that surrounded them. “Now I have no idea where I am!” she cried accusingly.
Ithilden looked around too, realizing they had come far from the path. The stars were hidden, but he was fairly sure they had turned north. “Where were you going in the darkness anyway?”
“To gather moonflowers! They grow just off the path by the creek,” she answered, but her voice broke, and Ithilden thought she might begin to cry. She really was not that much older than him. “My adar and naneth said I could go when the moon was full and I could gather for only a few minutes. I am very late.” Her voice had risen again and she looked like she might strike Ithilden again. She stamped her foot instead and cried out in frustration, “Ai!”
Eredien grabbed his arm as he was about to speak, and he felt the urgency in his friend’s touch. Eredien was looking up into the trees, as if seeking out something up there. Ithilden scanned the darkness, then suddenly saw piercing red eyes looking down upon them. Spiders! He reached for the maiden’s arm, to pull her with them as they turned to run, but she slapped his hand and cried, “Unhand me!”
Eredien shoved them both out of the way as a large black body fell right where they had been standing. “Run!” he cried.
The maiden cried out as they raced forward, but the sudden appearance of more eyes stopped them in their tracks. “Young ones. Tasty!” came a voice from behind them. Ithilden swung around to see another set of eyes watching them. They were surrounded!
He slowly pulled his bow off his shoulder and nocked an arrow, all the while looking around him and trying to count the creatures. There were only a few, but he knew they would call for more of their colony to join them. After all, three elves would make a good meal. He and Eredien stood with the maiden in between them, thankfully silent. “Do not forget to look above you,” he said in a barely audible voice. “I will take the two to the south. Mistress, have you a dagger?”
“Yes,” she breathed back, barely making a noise.
“If you must use it, aim for the eyes,” he said. He drew in a deep breath. “Now!” he whispered.
His arrow flew true, striking the beast before him, and it squealed and shrieked as black blood spurted out of its chest. Ithilden had already nocked and fired a second arrow, but this one missed the creature that was advancing on them. A dagger flew past him and lodge in the arachnid’s abdomen, and the spider cried, “Nasty elves!” even as Ithilden’s arrow pierced its face. It fell over, and he swung around to see how Eredien fared. He too had killed one spider, but another was high above in the tree. Both Ithilden and Eredien fired at it and it fell, though Ithilden did not know which of them had hit it.
“Come!” he growled, grabbing the arm of the maiden whose name he did not know and pulling her along with him. They raced south past the dying spider, the sound of angry hissing and snapping following after them. The sound was getting louder, and Ithilden knew the spiders were gaining. His mind raced in fear as he tried to remember what to do if caught among spiders.
The hissing voice was close behind them. Ithilden looked over his shoulder frantically and saw eyes glowing in the branches above them. Then the spider screeched in pain and came tumbling through the branches, crashing to the ground with an arrow sticking up from its carcass. Arrows flew all around them, and Ithilden realized that a patrol of warriors had found them. He nearly sagged in relief, then suddenly a strong arm caught him and lifted him into the trees. He found himself on a sturdy branch in a stately oak tree, held tightly by a fierce looking warrior.
“Silence!” commanded the warrior in a low voice when Ithilden opened his mouth. He snapped his mouth closed and instead watched the battle happening around him. Eredion was on a nearby branch in the grip of another warrior, and in the tree next to them, two warriors guarded the maiden. Below, above and around them, elven warriors fired arrow after arrow at the approaching spiders. The snapping and hissing ended finally stopped and silence fell over the forest, even the night creatures mute in the aftermath of the battle. Then a cricket began to chirp, and the warrior holding Ithilden eased his grip.
“Are you injured?” he asked, pushing Ithilden’s head to one side to look at the scratches on his face.
Ithilden shook his head. The warrior eyed him carefully for a moment, then recognition dawned in his eyes. “You are King Thranduil’s son.”
Ithilden nodded and gulped at the reminder. He had, after all, promised his father to stay on the flet too. “I do not envy you, young one, at explaining this to him,” said the warrior dryly.
A tall elf landed silently next to them and motioned for the two of them and Eredien and his guardian to move into the next tree. They leapt easily across the branches, until the five warriors and three young elves were all perched together in a large beech. Piercing eyes looked over the three with some expression that Ithilden could not read.
“I would ask what you three young fools were doing out in the forest at night, but I am sure you would tell me some unbelievable story that I do not wish to hear. Nithron, lead this group home while we clean up the carnage and look for the nest.” He glared at Ithilden. “Your father will, I am sure, be pleased to see you.”
Nithron laughed. “Aye, Beliond, that he will.” He looked at the maiden. “Mistress?”
“Gwaleniel,” answered the maiden, suddenly shy.
“Mistress Gwaleniel, can you move through the trees or would you prefer the ground?”
“I can do either!” she replied, a flash in her eyes. She stood on the branch, twisting and tying her gown in such a way that she appeared to be wearing loose fitting trousers. Ithilden and Eredien exchanged grins, but a seething look from Gwaleniel wiped the smiles from their faces. “It is your fault we are in this situation,” she hissed at them.
“If you had not run, we would never have ended up there,” hissed Ithilden in return.
“Enough!” said Nithron sternly, but his mouth twitched like he might grin himself.
Nithron led them through the trees at a moderate pace, making sure Gwaleniel could keep up, and he kept a watchful eye on Ithilden as well. When they reached the path, they dropped to the ground, and a few moments later several elves appeared.
“Gwaleniel!” cried one elf as he raced forward.
“Adar!” she cried, and she ran into her father’s outstretched arms. One of the warriors left their group to escort Gwaleniel and her father and the others who had come out in search of her back to their cottages and explain what happened.
“Our packs are on our flet,” said Ithilden, pointing at the tree where they had intended to spend the night.
“Go get them,” instructed Nithron.
“Can we just finish the night here?” asked Ithilden suddenly. “We will not leave again, and my adar and naneth expect us to be here.”
Nithron shook his head and pointed up the tree. “Absolutely not. Get your pack and come back down immediately.”
Eredien moved swiftly into the tree, but Ithilden hesitated slightly. Nithron crossed his arms over his chest and stared sternly at him, challenging him, and Ithilden knew he did not wish to cross this warrior. He leapt on to the branch, climbed up to the flet and grabbed his pack. He and Eredien paused for just a moment, looking at each other, and Ithilden waited for his friend to point out that this was really his fault. Eredien just sighed dejectedly and climbed down to the ground.
Nithron led Ithilden to the palace, while Eredien’s guard escorted him to his family’s cottage. They passed the guards at the entrance, who both greeted Nithron as captain. Once they entered, Nithron sent another guard to wake the king.
“I am not sleeping,” said Thranduil as he appeared from the shadows. He was casually dressed, but had clearly not been in bed.
“My lord,” greeted Nithron, bowing. Ithilden decided he should do the same and bowed as well. “We encountered spiders about a league north of the creek. Beliond is dealing with them.”
Thranduil eyed him thoughtfully. “What roused the spiders, Nithron? How did they come be so near the flet where my son was sleeping?”
Nithron pursed his lips, looking at Ithilden, and Ithilden realized the warrior was waiting for him to explain himself. Keeping his gaze firmly fixed on the ground, he replied, “We were not at the flet, Adar.”
“Look at me, Ithilden,” commanded Thranduil.
Ithilden looked up and blinked hard when he saw the unyielding look on his father’s face. “We saw a maiden walking alone and decided to escort her. Then we came upon some spiders and fought with them,” he explained, swallowing hard when his father’s face blanched. “I killed two or maybe three, I don’t know if Eredien or I hit the last one, and then we ran. Then the warriors came,” he finished, his voice faltering.
“The maiden walked a league north of the creek, alone at night?” asked Thranduil incredulously
“Well, not exactly,” replied Ithilden, his voice shaking. “She did not realize who was following her and began to run and we realized we had scared her, so we chased after her and called to her . . ..”
His voice faded off at the look of growing anger on his father’s face and he shrank back slightly.
“Their argument drew the spiders, my lord,” finished Nithron. “They did fight well, though, and the two ellyn killed five spiders. Unfortunately, those five had alerted a large colony.”
Thranduil bowed his head, and Ithilden saw that he was clenching and unclenching his fists. He realized he was shaking too, as the full weight of the danger they had been in settled on him along with the shame of his actions.
“Thank you, Nithron, for escorting Ithilden home,” said Thranduil, dismissing the warrior, who cast a sympathetic gaze on Ithilden before bowing and leaving.
Silence stretched out between Ithilden and his father for a few moments, and Ithilden clenched his hands together in an effort to stop them from shaking. Then his father’s arms were around him, holding him close. Ithilden felt the comfort of his father’s strong hand on his head, holding him against a chest and shoulder so broad and strong that Ithilden had always hoped he would grow to the same stature.
“I am sorry, Adar,” he said hoarsely. “I wanted to help and instead I created a disaster.”
“I am glad you are home and safe,” said Thranduil after a long moment of silence, speaking mostly into Ithilden’s hair. He stepped back, examining the scratches on Ithilden’s face. “Go to your chambers now and clean those scratches. We will speak tomorrow.”
Ithilden walked slowly to his chambers, his head bowed. He was tired and embarrassed, and it suddenly occurred to him that he might be punished as well. That had not happened for years! This was definitely his worst begetting day ever.
For those less familiar with daw’s many OC’s…
Now we know the real reason why when Legolas slept out in a flet, Thranduil set a guard on them!
Special thanks to Karri for beta reading this chapter and contributing her ideas to the plot (such as there is..)
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